The Fountain of Youth has long been an elusive idea that men and women have chased after in an effort to find a way to achieve beauty, strength and a longer, healthier life. But age happens to us all, and we haven’t yet found the all-elusive Fountain of Youth—despite avid searches dating back all the way to the Greeks. But that’s not to say there haven’t been plenty of attempts (and some promising results).
Aging impacts us in many ways, and it’s not all about looks. As our cells begin to harbor more wear and tear, the damage can trigger the onset of diseases and other conditions that decrease our overall health—especially in the realm of fitness. Likewise, the signs of aging in our skin, from wrinkles to skin spots, can signal deeper health issues at play. In short, youthfulness is more than skin deep.
The downsides of aging have led many in the beauty, pharmaceutical, supplement and cosmetically industries to research and explore new ways to achieve and maximize youth. Celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and others have been influential in the anti-chemical natural beauty movement. And as more people discover the importance that quality products play in the health of their bodies, the emphasis on natural products is only expected to grow.
The state of the natural beauty industry today
It’s a well-documented fact that using chemicals in and on the body can increase the risk of certain diseases like cancer or reproductive problems. Due to the inherent danger of chemical use, the natural beauty movement has taken off. The interest in organic vegan products—free of parabens and other chemicals like phthalates and synthetic colors, which even high-end products contain—has opened the door to alternative beauty products that are touted as actually good for the skin and your overall health.
And the growing industry, expected to hit $15.98 billion worldwide in 2020 (and nearly $22 billion in 2024), shows that people are getting on board with that. In 2015, the U.S. market for natural skincare grew by 7%; the overall beauty market only grew 2% during that same time.
The growing interest in this once-niche beauty space is driving mass retailers like Target and CVS to include a larger selection of natural products, and even pull some chemical-laden products from their shelves.
Do natural and plant-based products actually work?
There’s no simple black-and-white response to the question of whether natural beauty products actually do what they’re said to do. The truth is that some do and some don’t. Because supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, claims may go unproven. However, in the case of plant extracts, the draw of natural solutions is leading to a growing body of research examining the actual effectiveness of plants as beauty aids. And that’s a good thing.
Research on the benefits of plant extracts
Beauty products in this “natural movement” can be pricey. Botanical ingredients may be rare or globally-sourced, or sometimes even undergo very special manufacturing processes to protect delicate nutrients. But research has already been showing positive benefits for a number of botanical extracts, which may make them worth the time spent reading about them and the money spent buying them. Many of these studies showed definitive anti-aging benefits and skin rejuvenation benefits.
- Plant extracts for longevity: Internal and external aging and bodily breakdown happen because of oxidation and stress on our cells. Scientists have been testing plant extracts to see if they might be beneficial in slowing the aging process inside and out. And the results have been promising. In one study, researchers tested six plant extracts on yeast cells, which have an aging rate similar to human cells. The findings? The plant extracts inhibited the proteins and pathways in the yeast that furthered the cellular aging process. While further tests are needed to see how this could affect humans, this early-stage exploration into longevity is looking good.
- Plant extracts for anti-aging: Aging happens, especially when you don’t take good care of your skin. But even if you do, the environment can take its toll. Some botanicals have showed benefits in stopping or postponing the aging process. In one study, different combinations of Chinese cedar, wormwood, Taishu persimmon and 17 other plants were tested for their effect on skin oxidation and adipose tissue—both of which contribute to wrinkle formation. The findings suggested that the plants, when used together, may help prevent or stave off the visible effects of age. Further study is still needed, but the early research is showing promise for the possible anti-aging abilities of plants.
- Plant extracts for skin cancer prevention and treatment
One study in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal showed that a combination of plant extracts showed positive effects on cancer cells, preventing their spread and also increasing skin elasticity and reducing aging due to antioxidant properties. Another study showed that certain extracts could play a positive role in protecting the skin against UVB radiation and minimizing the effects of the sun on the skin. Yet another study conducted on non-melanoma skin cancer suggested that topical use may not only help prevent it, but also be a potentially beneficial therapy. Further research is needed, but these studies may be good news considering the increase in skin cancer diagnoses over the last several years.
Anti-aging, longevity and disease prevention begin with good health. And good health begins with good nutrition (and supplements). So develop a nutritious diet and solid supplement routine to get on the road to achieving your beauty and wellness goals.